Smart transmission technologies
While most people identify the term Smart Grids with the new smart meters they may have in their homes, the real implications are far more vast and complex
While the great energy debate unfolds over the extraction, transportation and environmental impacts of fossil fuels, the electricity sector has been quietly revolutionized by the introduction of smart grids. While most people identify the term with the new smart meters they may have in their homes, the real implications are far more vast and complex.
The term “smart grid” emerged approximately 8 to 10 years ago, but for many people the term became synonymous with smart meters since these represent the primary touch point between retail power customers and the smart grid. This perception was validated in the US when the largest portion of the Department of Energy Smart Grid Investment Grants went to Advanced Metering Infrastructure projects and in Canada when Ontario implemented smart meters across the province.
However, smart grid technologies extend well beyond metering to include a wide range of hardware and software both in high voltage transmission systems and local distribution networks. The Electric Power Research Institute and the US Department of Energy have reported that smart grid investments generate positive economic benefits, and utilities are moving forward with investments at both the transmission and distribution levels. The challenge lies not in the maturity of these technologies but in the policies that govern cost recovery for smart grid investments.
Today, investment in smart meters continues, but utilities are also investing in other aspects of smart grids to improve operational effectiveness. At the transmission level, these include:
̶ High-voltage direct current (HVDC) transmission systems for bulk transport of electricity over long distances with minimal losses
̶ Flexible AC Transmission Systems (FACTS), which are a family of power electronics devices capable of improving efficiency and increasing the capacity of existing lines
̶ Wide-area monitoring systems that provide real-time information on grid conditions
̶ Enhanced grid control systems and improved sensor technology that enable greater automation of grid operations that improves both reliability and efficiency
One important aspect of these technologies is how they facilitate the integration of renewable generation sources into the transmission system. HVDC can efficiently deliver energy over long distances from remotely located or off-shore renewable generation. FACTS can stabilize AC transmission lines to smooth the inherent variability of wind and solar installations. These capabilities are essential to the long-term viability of renewable power.
So while smart meters may have started the smart grid ball rolling, the concept is much more complex, with a much broader technology scope, and endless possibilities for benefits to utilities and consumers.
I look forward to seeing you at the IEEE PES T&D Conference and Exhibition is Chicago on April 14-17, 2014 to continue this and other discussions on the energy future.